Activism 2.0: Fight racism by editing Wikipedia.

Although Wikipedia articles on unfamiliar topics tend to appear reasonable and coherent, they are actually authored by only a small subset of individuals. Anyone can edit Wikipedia, which gives the impression that the content on Wikipedia is a cumulation of public knowledge, but the content of Wikipedia is actually a reflection of a particular demographic that skews white, American, and male.

Some white people who are bothered by racism do not know what action to take to erode racism. However, one thing that anti-racist white people can do is edit Wikipedia to counteract edits by white supremacists, which tend to remain unchecked and unchallenged.

Welcome to Activism 2.0, where the keyboard is mightier than the pen.


Wikipedia is systemically biased.

I have been editing Wikipedia since 2004, under different accounts (ethically), with varying levels of intensity. Although the Wikipedian hierarchy confers (administrative) privileges on to early adopters and enthusiastic editors that happen to be of that particular demographic, I tried to reduce the systemic biases by editing.

Correctness was determined by a poll.

I became thoroughly disillusioned with the system when the “Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy” was current, and there was the Wikipedia issue of whether or not to place the controversial caricatures in the article, and at the beginning of the article. Instead of a logical debate about the ethics and propriety of including the arguably Islamophobic and racist caricatures into the Wikipedia article, the resolution was determined by a poll. Of course, white, Western, technologically-inclined men who associate open source software with freedom of speech with fighting “political correctness” overwhelmingly opted to include the image.

(Incidentally, I was not allowed to vote, because by the time I arrived to edit, the poll was closed.)

The Wikipedia article on Racism was edited by white supremacists.

After a long hiatus from editing Wikipedia, when I created a new account Restructure to associate with my blog and started editing again, I found that the increased popularity of Wikipedia did not make the articles any better. In fact, I was saddened to find absurd claims about whites being victims of racial minorities, which were most likely inserted by white supremacists.

For example, in the Racism article there was a special section on Anti-White racism. Within the section, there were many claims about whites being victims of racism by non-whites, and these claims appeared to be supported by citations, since there were superscripted numbers next to them which corresponded to footnotes. However, when I followed the links, I found that the links did not actually support the claim. Apparently, nobody else bothered to verify the links, probably because they assumed that these claims about whites being unfairly targetted were probably true.

When the Wikipedia article claimed that “Islamic attackers” in India targetted “white tourists”, the referenced news article actually claimed that the Bombay attackers targetted “British and American citizens”. When the Wikipedia article claimed that “Islamic attackers” in Egypt targetted “white tourists”, the referenced news article actually claimed that the Luxor attackers targetted “foreigners”, most being Swiss and Japanese. When the Wikipedia article claimed, “In the United States, there have been many attacks against white Americans on the basis of their ethnicity,” the reference was actually a news article about one anti-white attack in Long Beach, California. When the Wikipedia article made claims about anti-White prejudices in the “Muslim world”, the reference was actually a news article about an individual, President Ahmadinejad of Iran.

I removed these unsupported claims from the Wikipedia:Racism article, but it is unfortunate that if it was not for a radical woman of colour who decided to resume Wikipedia editing, such ridiculous, white-supremacist claims would remain unchallenged. Verifying sources like these does not require an advanced understanding of racism and white privilege, only literacy in English, yet there are not enough people who would make the effort.

Activism 2.0: Editing Wikipedia is making a difference.

For better or worse, a Wikipedia article is usually the first result when one Googles a general topic. Although the system is broken in many ways, instead of opting out, the realistic and practical thing to do is to contribute to Wikipedia in tiny ways to counter some of the systemic bias.

How can a white person take action against racism? Become a Wikipedia editor and correct obvious racist falsehoods. Editing Wikipedia is easier than sending a letter to an editor, showing up to a rally, and marching against a cause. If there is something wrong on Wikipedia, fix it directly, and fix it yourself. Real, practical effects are better than self-congratulatory symbolism.*

The internet is serious business now, and it is becoming more influential than print media. Computer-literate youths will Google a general topic and click on the Wikipedia result. If these Wikipedia articles are racist, our children will inherit our racist web culture as established popular culture.


* An example of a useless, symbolic, over-privileged activist event is Buy Nothing Day. Yes, now changing things on the Internet counts as a material effect, while physically participating in Buy Nothing Day is only abstract symbolism.

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12 Responses to “Activism 2.0: Fight racism by editing Wikipedia.”

  1. Caret and Stick | Xenia Institute Says:

    [...] keeping, and for whose interests? At the anti-racism blog Restructure! is a post titled “Fight racism by editing Wikipedia.” The author points out: Although Wikipedia articles on unfamiliar topics tend to appear reasonable [...]

  2. wordwhisperer Says:

    The only problem I have with your post is that you make it sound as though POC do not edit Wikipedia.

  3. Restructure! Says:

    Of course POC edit Wikipedia. I’m a POC who edits Wikipedia, but I feel that my contributions are being drowned out by certain types of dominant worldviews that correlate with race, gender, nationality, etc.

  4. theboxman Says:

    I recall there being something of a counter-systemic bias project on wikipedia at some point although I don’t quite if it’s still ongoing or what impact it had overall. My impression is that it was little, though, judging from some of the problematic statements and assertions that tend to creep up in articles that are in my area of expertise.

  5. Jae Says:

    I’m pissed at Wikipedia. Some 22-year-old white moron deleted an article on African Americans in Iowa that I had contributed. The deletion discussion was certainly interesting. In it, a white gay male and several others suggested that it wasn’t a notable topic. The moron agreed. What blew me away was that the guy had contributed articles on a Bowling Alley and Merck’s Corporate HQ. Tell me that doesn’t smack of some kind of bias.

  6. Serena Says:

    I believe it is also skewed to those who work in the IT/computer industry which is why the articles related to technology are so comprehensive.

  7. Susan Donovan Says:

    You might want to check out this project:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_African_diaspora

    I am inactive (futurebird) — but I can say you are right.

  8. 1stddevHuman Says:

    Restructure,

    I’m an Asian guy who works in business intelligence IT. I have been called every ethnic slur in the book. And I do mean EVERY–I have amorphous non-white features.

    I’ve just started reading these postings. There is some truth, but a lot of it leaves me as disgusted as reading the Euro-hate sites. I’m left thinking, ‘WTF? There are people who really think like this?’. (Internet is a weird thing, a few jumps here and there and one finds themself on a site they wouldn’t type in specifically.)

    I was a little shocked to read your belief that white people don’t get attacked by non-whites. Did I miscomprehend that? Is disregard for victims, who happen to be white, a pendulum swing that is just to compensate for history?

    Don’t get me wrong. I hate bigots. However, I hate ALL kinds of bigots. I do not think that generations of oppression on one’s ancient forebears entitle one group to more or less. Shit, I don’t even think if it happened to your own generation, it entitles anyone.

    I hate seeing a famous spokesperson for group A only come to the defense of an individual only because they belong to group A. Especially if that individual was in the wrong. To me, that’s just bullshit identity politics prevailing over common humanity.

    There would be more credibility if the famous spokesperson for group A could support and assist someone from group B who was a VICTIM of group A. Otherwise, famous spokesperson does not see people as people and is worse than the oppression that they supposedly fight against.

    One thing I do is put a race-infused news story through a mental exercise. Switch the victim and perpetrator, ponder the treatment.

  9. Restructure! Says:

    I was a little shocked to read your belief that white people don’t get attacked by non-whites. Did I miscomprehend that?

    Yeah, you probably did miscomprehend. If there is a claim that there were “many” anti-white attacks, but the footnote references only one incident, then the citation does not support the claim.

  10. 1stddevHuman Says:

    Reread it s l o w l y and parsed it deliberately. I see. It was an issue of degree versus absolute existence.

    Laughing at myself. ‘Aha! I caught you. You hate spewing, hypocrite!’ Not saying you aren’t, I haven’t been here that long. :)

    Now, how one may define “many” is subjective, but I think a reasonable threshold is whatever fits someone’s narrative. Don’t want to get into the ‘who-suffered-more-Olympics’. A real victim is infinitely worse than any statistic.

    What immediately jumped to mind when I read your post was the Tennesse college couple who were killed by five or six people. The crime was horrific. The blogosphere went nuts with, ‘oh, so if the victims are white, then there is no crime?!’ I could totally understand the hostility. The brutality was so egregious–to me, I could care less what color the victims were, this should have had far more coverage.

    And there is nothing like an ugly interracial crime that gets the message board nutjobs out of the woodwork. Links were included that took me to racial hate sites of all colors.

    BTW, I’m the only male developer in my workcenter. All the others are Indian females, except one Chinese girl. All are foriegn-born, too. Thank God for them. They cut me a LOT of slack since they’ve been developing for years and don’t mind helping me out. I would be effed without them.

    I think what helps the relations is that I own up to not knowing as much as them. I swear, they must read SQL like I can read English. I mean, looking at a page of dense, thick code, and in an instant, ‘oh, that join is wrong’.

    You know something else? They are pretty normal. Even average to a little above average attractive. Would I date some of them if a) we didn’t work together b) more common interests than work c) they were open to those outside their ethnic group? Maybe. Well, maybe if they were American-born. The culture difference is not too much of a factor when it is primarily work.

    Anyway, they’re real nice to me, except when they want me to try a pot luck dish to see if I like the spiciness. All that is to say, I’ve been in worse situations where people weren’t as generous to help the new guy.

    They were a little surprised at how Americans view science and math as not highly desirable subjects. They tell me that India and China revere the hard sciences, but the U.S. glamorizes lawyers, marketers, entertainers, and so on. Basically, things about image and popularity.

    OK, I’ve already left the path. Time to let my dog out.

  11. A Stein Says:

    Thanks for this article. But Wikipedia has some editors that work against free speech. Example: We tried to add some balance to articles regarding the American Federation of Teachers, the United Federation of Teachers, and related topics. Most were blocked and within second of posting we received warning that all our content may be blocked in the future.

    AMAZINGLY, if one looks at an article about the Ocean Hill Brooklyn firings, the article on Wikipedia is one-sided and only gives the perspective of the teachers and those supporting them. The firings, were done in an effort to get bad teachers out of the classes in Ocean Hill so that Black students would have a better quality education. But rather than fighting for the students, the teachers union fought for the bad teachers, and they won. This lead to Black parents and students in the area (like in most American Black, Mexican, Native American communities) being left with sub par educational facilities, but NO VOICE from which to change it. And while some think that PTA’s in poor communities are that voice, PTAs are merely rubber stamping structures setup in schools to squash the real voice of poorer students and parents. In fact, Black and urban minority students that speak out against racism in schools are vilified, and we know one that was threatened with physical violence in Manhattan and ended up Homeschooling due to the hostile school environment created. Thanks for your time.

  12. Ann Says:

    I’m concerned about images on Wikipedia as well as subtle/systemic racism.

    > Look up ‘Body Shape’ to name one article, the images are all of white people. That’s white supremacy.

    > Look up medicine, music, philosophy or poetry etc the text and images are Eurocentric. It’s like the Greek people were the only ones who created anything of worth in history.

    > “Art” is one of the better articles.

    I realise it’s English and English is a European language, but it’s meant to be ‘universal’ now right?


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